Heathlands are internationally rare. Around 75% of lowland heath has been lost in the UK since 1800 and it is estimated that over 90% of heathlands in West Sussex have been lost.
Heathlands are intrinsically dry landscapes, based on sandy and acid soils. They support specialist species which can tolerate the acid conditions. Because sand is so permeable, it also means that the small amount of wetland which does occur on heathlands, is rarer, and has proportionately even more value than it would have in an otherwise ‘wet’ landscape.
Much of our heathland has been placed under forestry management and has been grip drained, which means that we have lost important areas of wetted heath across Sussex.
Wet heaths are important habitats for a number of nationally and locally rare species including :-
- european nightjar (Caprimulgus europaeus)
- dartford warbler (Sylvia undata)
- bog pimpernel (Anagallis tenella)
- bog asphodel (Narthecium ossifragum)
- white beak-sedge (Rhynchospora alba)
- round-leaved sundew (Drosera rotundifolia)
- hare’s tail cotton grass (Eriophorum vaginatum)
- silver-studded blue butterfly (Plebejus argus)
Sphagnum mosses and other bryophytes are a major component of Sussex wet heaths, but are far less studied. The Marsh club moss Lycopodiella inundata (an RDB endangered species) for example, is found in Sussex wet heaths. Did you know that Sphagnum moss can hold over ten times its weight in water?